Story and Photos by Jose Olivares for Our Town Reno
At the beginning of September, Our Town Reno published the story of Doug, a 72-year-old man who was living on a porch in downtown Reno.
After the Our Town Reno story was published, Bob and Michelle Mello, the two founders of the Reno Sparks Homeless Veterans group, were able to secure a room for Doug in a three-bedroom apartment in Reno.
As we reported earlier this year, Doug’s living conditions were perilous, especially for a man his age. The 72-year-old suffers from emphysema and was previously living on a porch. On this porch, he was exposed to the elements and police, with only a few jackets and some blankets for protection.
Doug’s close neighbor and friend, Scott, would routinely visit him at the porch.
A New Life Inside
Since Doug moved into the apartment one week ago, his life has changed. This is an opportune time as the colder weather begins to creep through Reno.
“[Living in the apartment] beats living outside,” Doug said. “Better being indoor than outdoors.”
When you walk into the apartment, the white walls and cleanliness of the home feels charming. Doug has his own room with a television, bed and plenty of blankets. He shares the apartment with Steve, a veteran who was previously homeless.
Michelle Mello, who helps homeless veterans find homes, said a woman would soon be occupying the third bedroom in the apartment.
Although Doug himself is not a veteran, Michelle helped him find and secure this room in the apartment.
“For the past five years, we started helping homeless in general,” Michelle said.
Her husband, Bob, is a veteran from the Vietnam War. With the work they were doing to help homeless people, they noticed a high number of homeless veterans.
“We didn’t understand why there were so many [homeless veterans] since the government is supposed to help them,” Michelle said.
Currently, their group is helping seven veterans and one senior citizen, Doug.
“Some people stay in the apartments, then leave on their own when they’re back up on their feet,” Michelle told us. “We’ve already known homeless need help but it’s more apparent now.”
Reno Sparks Homeless Veterans provides food, clothes and hygiene products to people in the community experiencing homelessness. They use their own money and donations, to pay rent and to get furniture to turn the apartments into a home.
According to Michelle, once they house a person in one of the apartments, they will help them secure a job, Social Security or other income to help pay for the low-priced rent. Michelle says the people they help are free to stay in the apartments for however long they want.
The group is also currently accepting blankets, clothing and food for a donation drive on October 16th.
Although the organization’s work has been helping a great amount of people, Michelle also hopes the City of Reno would help more with homelessness in Reno.
“The City of Reno needs to start restructuring buildings and have low income housing,” Michelle said. “By pushing homeless from one corner to the next corner, they’re just sweeping [homelessness] aside. It’s not right.”
Steve, Doug’s roommate was listening to our conversation. He chimed in:
“If it weren’t for Bob and Michelle, I probably wouldn’t be here right now,” Steve said. It is clear he is appreciative of the Mellos for all their work.
Doug, however, still needs to adjust to his new living situation. It has only been a week since he moved into the apartment, but you can tell the transition is still ongoing. Doug misses his faithful friend Scott. When Scott previously visited the apartment, Doug was out, so they had not seen each other since his move.
Although he is appreciative of the roof over his head, you can tell he misses interacting with people out on the streets. Doug told Our Town Reno he usually spends most of the day inside the apartment. He wants to stay active.
“I want to do something to keep busy,” Doug said. “Sometimes I don’t know what to do because being in here, I have no one to talk to.”
Looking for Tasks and Helping
While living on the streets, Doug would clean windows to make some money. It is obvious he is looking for any small task where he can be productive. He told us he had previously vacuumed the apartment and has plans to clean the dust off the living room light structure. During our interview, he took the opportunity to take the trash out before leaving with Michelle to buy cigarettes.
Michelle is incredibly humble in regards to the incredible work she is doing for local homeless individuals in the Reno and Sparks area. You can tell she truly enjoys spending time and helping take care of the people whose lives she has touched.
“One day we crave there won’t be any homeless ever,” Michelle told us.